Dublin Bay: Na­ture and His­tory

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Richard Nairn, David Jef­frey and Rob Good­body

Collins Press, hard­back, 312 pages, €24.99

Dublin was a very dif­fer­ent place at the start of the 19th cen­tury from the thriv­ing cap­i­tal city we know today. Dublin Port and Dún Laoghaire Har­bour had not yet been built. There was no Bull Wall, and no Bull Is­land. The rail­way along the south coast did not ex­ist, and the city’s coast­line was dot­ted with farm­land and small vil­lages, in­clud­ing Clon­tarf and Sandy­mount.

Dublin Bay: Na­ture and His­tory notes that most of the phys­i­cal changes which have oc­curred are man-made, and it is mankind — or the ef­fect hu­man­ity is hav­ing on the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment — that will largely shape its fu­ture.

Cli­mate change will likely re­sult in sea lev­els be­ing at least one me­tre higher in 2100 than today, leav­ing some 350 sq km of Ir­ish cities vul­ner­a­ble, it warns.

In Dublin, eco­nomic dam­ages re­lat­ing to prop­erty-in­sur­ance claims could be in the re­gion of €339m as res­i­den­tial ar­eas are flooded and liveli­hoods de­stroyed. And apart from the dam­age to prop­erty, there will be “great changes” in the bay’s nat­u­ral habi­tats, with “large parts” likely to be lost, in­clud­ing sands and mud­flats which have sur­vived for cen­turies along­side ur­ban devel­op­ment, and with a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on wildlife in­clud­ing the loss of rare orchid species and win­ter­ing birds.

“Cen­tral govern­ment and the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties need to agree on the best ap­proach to adopt, to avoid the worst ef­fects of cli­mate change im­pacts on coasts,” it says.

“It (Dublin Bay) is… a frag­ile place, eas­ily dam­aged by in­ap­pro­pri­ate devel­op­ment, mis­man­age­ment or ne­glect. The bay needs to be man­aged in a sus­tain­able way so that it can go on pro­vid­ing the es­sen­tial func­tions of sea within a city.”

Writ­ten by en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tant Richard Nairn, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Bi­ol­ogy at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin; David Jef­frey, and ge­og­ra­pher and plan­ner Rob Good­body, Dublin Bay: Na­ture and His­tory tells the story of how Dublin de­vel­oped from when Vik­ings beached their long­ships in the 9th cen­tury to today.

It’s a rich story, full of colour, with the book not­ing that in the midst of the cap­i­tal’s hu­man ac­tiv­ity which drives the Ir­ish econ­omy, the bay con­tains some of the best ex­am­ples of sand flats, dunes, salt­marsh and off­shore sand­banks in the State, is home to mil­lions of shell­fish, worms, crus­taceans

PAUL MELIA on a fas­ci­nat­ing book which looks at the bay’s his­tory, its rich ta­pes­try of wildlife and ar­gues con­vinc­ingly that we must act to pro­tect the city and this frag­ile ecosys­tem

and other crea­tures, is vis­ited by great flocks of mi­gra­tory birds ar­riv­ing from Arc­tic Canada and trop­i­cal Africa while seals, por­poises and dol­phins are in abun­dance, with whales oc­ca­sion­ally vis­it­ing.

And it’s huge — some 296 sq km, with the shore­line mea­sur­ing 65km from Dalkey to the Howth penin­sula, in­clud­ing the Lif­fey banks to Heuston. While it oc­ca­sion­ally suf­fers from a While most of the phys­i­cal changes to the city over the last 1,000 years have been pos­i­tive, only through good for­tune and pub­lic op­po­si­tion have some pro­jects been avoided.

Bull Is­land be­gan to form in the early 19th cen­tury from the sand which used to lie at the Lif­fey, and the area rapidly be­came a leisure re­sort. By 1868, Dublin Cor­po­ra­tion had plans to use the is­land as a dump­ing ground for the city’s sewage which had be­come a ma­jor health haz­ard. It was planned to erect a wall around the is­land, and ferry the hu­man exc­reta down the Lif­fey on barges and cover the is­land. In­flu­en­tial sur­plus of de­tail — such as about dune for­ma­tion, soil struc­tures or num­bers of par­tic­u­lar species — which may not be of in­ter­est to the general reader, the book more than makes up for it in its de­scrip­tion of how hu­mans and wildlife in­ter­act, and co-ex­ist.

Glass­wort, a wild plant found in salt­marshes and which is eaten by floun­ders, is “a fash­ion­able food in del­i­catessens”, it notes, adding that fish landown­ers in Clon­tarf man­aged to have the idea dropped.

In 1929, a “hare-brained” scheme pro­posed to cre­ate a bar­rage at ei­ther end of Bull Is­land, form­ing a per­ma­nent lake which would be used for sports and as a tourist des­ti­na­tion. In 1945, maps were also pro­duced set­ting out plans for a Black­pool-type devel­op­ment on Bull Is­land.

Orig­i­nally pro­posed in 1936, the plan was res­ur­rected in 1972 for a site at Sandy­mount Strand. It was even­tu­ally re­jected fol­low­ing pub­lic op­po­si­tion. was a large part of Dublin­ers’ di­ets in re­cent his­tory, her­rings in par­tic­u­lar.

“They fea­tured strongly on fast days, so much so that fol­low­ing Lent, butch­ers led ‘Her­ring Fu­ner­als’ to cel­e­brate their cus­tomers’ re­turn to meat, where a her­ring was beaten through the town on Easter Sun­day and thrown into the wa­ter, and a quar­ter of lamb dressed with rib­bons was hung up in its place.”

There are some 600 recorded ship­wrecks Built in 1843, the baths were con­tin­u­ally used un­til the 1980s be­fore they were closed. Dur­ing the Celtic Tiger, a €140m re­de­vel­op­ment plan in­cluded 180 apart­ments, re­tail units and restau­rants, and an in­door swim­ming pool. Coun­cil­lors scrapped the plan.

High-rise of­fice blocks, apart­ments, ho­tels and even ar­ti­fi­cial beaches were pro­posed in the Dock­lands and across to the Pool­beg Penin­sula un­der a ‘miniMan­hat­tan’ pro­posal. The eco­nomic crash in 2008 put paid to the plans. as­so­ci­ated with the bay, and the book also tells the story of how the city built gi­ant sea walls to help pro­vide safe har­bour, set­ting out a num­ber of sur­veys in­clud­ing one of 1801 by Cap­tain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

There’s a host of other in­ter­est­ing tales, in­clud­ing con­struc­tion of Sir John Roger­son Quay and other recla­ma­tion pro­jects, of caves in Salthill which ap­pear to be lost to his­tory, of lead-min­ing in Clon­tarf, and even ref­er­ences to Clon­tarf Is­land, once part of the north bay but since lost to his­tory, its gravel re­moved to make con­crete.

The im­por­tance of the city to the wider Ir­ish econ­omy can­not be over­stated, and nor can the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing the bay, which is both home to wildlife and a rich amenity for the city.

“Through­out its long and che­quered his­tory the nat­u­ral ecosys­tem of the bay has shown re­mark­able re­silience,” it con­cludes. “We have choices to make about the fu­ture, and we should face them be­fore they are made for us.”

This fas­ci­nat­ing book sets out count­less rea­sons why.

Richard Nairn will be part of a panel, Sav­ing Ire­land’s Na­ture and Nat­u­ral Habi­tats, at 2.30pm to­mor­row at the Na­tional Botanic Gar­dens in Glas­nevin as part of the Dublin Book Fes­ti­val

Ships at the en­trance to Dublin Port in the early 19th cen­tury,by Wil­liam Sadler (cour­tesy of Adams Dublin)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.